Last month, Jennifer Shahade spoke to Vanity Fair magazine about the recent Netflix hit The Queen’s Gambit. The chess drama follows a young girl in post-war America who turns out to be an incredible talent at the game.
Shahade is a two-time US Women’s Champion, Women’s Program Director at U.S. Chess, and also a brand ambassador for PokerStars. So we can safely say she understands both games very well. In this interview she delves into the parallels between the two games.
“…in a way, I feel like, sets it apart from all of those other chess content pieces, and makes it into something that could potentially build a bridge between people who play chess as children and people who play chess later in their life. It’s kind of like the poker side of chess. It’s the travel, the glamour, the relationships between the people that you meet on the tour. The individualistic side of it.”
Same Old Problem
When it comes to depicting poker and chess on the screen, both games suffer badly from unrealistic situations being chosen. The producers of The Queen’s Gambit pulled out all the stops to make sure that didn’t happen.
With poker the age old problem is the scene has to be the worst bad beat the writer can think of. Four of a kind runs into a straight flush, etc.
Chess doesn’t fare much better. One player is usually looking highly confident until their opponent makes a move that is either checkmate or ends the game on the spot, turning a happy face into a devastated one.
Official Mind Sports
Both chess and poker are now recognised by the International Mind Sports Association. And as you might expect there are plenty of similarities with how budding players improve their skill sets.
“I think the approach to the game, to getting better, is very similar. No matter what amount of time you have to put into poker or chess, there’s a different strategy to improving, and it’s similar for both games. You look at what types of situations are going to come up most frequently.”
“Well in poker, there’re corollaries to that. You study your opening ranges, you study your late tournament ICM, and shoving ranges. Cause you know that it’s going to come up, and so if you study it, you’re definitely going to get better. That’s the kind of thing you’re also looking for in chess.”
The real takeaway from this is that repetition is key to success. Many situations in both games crop up again and again, and players must know how to react almost with thinking.
Although at the highest levels of both games we see genius level thought processes, new players should understand that putting in the hours diligently will take even the most untalented player to a respectable level. This is part of the real beauty of both chess and poker.
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